Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who represented parts of Baltimore, the city where he was born and raised, died early Thursday at age 68.
The Maryland Democrat died at Gilchrist Hospice Care, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, at about 2:30 a.m. EDT from “complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” his office confirmed in a statement.
The son of a sharecropper, Cummings became a lawyer and then judge. He was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983, where he served until 1996 and in 1995 became the first African-American to serve as speaker pro tempore.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in a 1996 special election to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Kweisi Mfume left Congress to head the NAACP.
More: Who is Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee?
His wife is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party.
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” she said in a statement
“He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It has been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly,” she said.
A former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings was outspoken on civil rights.
As chairman of the caucus in 2004, he called on then-President George W. Bush to send troops to Haiti as part of an international force to restore order and protect democracy there. And he was a leading voice among the caucus members last year who called for congressional hearings to examine the fatal shootings of black people by police officers.
Cummings, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, recently sparred with President Donald Trump as the 23-year veteran of Capitol Hill led multiple investigations into the president and his administration.
In July, Trump lashed out at Cummings after the congressman criticized the administration’s handling of migrant detention centers and his committee authorized subpoenas for senior White House officials’ electronic communications. The president called Cummings a “brutal bully” and said Baltimore was a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors,” Cummings said in response. “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
Trump’s remarks were condemned as racist by many, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The president denied being racist and inexplicably called Cummings “racist” in turn.
After Trump told four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their countries of origin, Cummings told The Baltimore Sun the president’s rhetoric took him back to the racial animosity he felt during the civil rights era.
“I don’t think these Republicans or Trump fully understand what it feels like to be treated like less than a dog,” Cummings said. “I’m feeling the same things that I felt when these white folks down in South Baltimore were throwing rocks and bottles at me. But now, I feel like it’s the president of the United States doing it.”
“Today we have lost a giant,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn said in a statement mourning Cummings, a close ally in Congress whom he called a “public servant to his core.”
“His dedication to fairness and his ability to navigate the choppy waters of partisanship were the hallmarks of his leadership. There will not be another leader like him,” Clyburn said.
Former Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who served with Cummings from 2008-2017, said in a tweet that “Baltimore, Maryland, and our nation have lost a true warrior for truth and justice. Rep. Elijah Cummings rests with the angels.”
Cummings: Trump doesn’t know how it feels to be treated ‘like less than a dog’
“The death of Chairman Cummings leaves an irreplaceable void in our hearts, in our Maryland and in our Congress,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement. “Quite possibly no elected official mattered so much to his constituents. Chairman Cummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one, and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate.”
Cummings’ Republican colleagues also praised him and mourned his passing.
“Elijah Cummings was a good friend and a powerful advocate for what he believed,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said. “He saw a lot of things change in his lifetime, but understood we weren’t where we should be yet.”
Out of respect for Cummings, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., postponed a scheduled news conference where he had planned to demand greater transparency in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
“Many are in mourning and we hope that peace and comfort can enter the hearts of those who cared for Elijah,” Gaetz said.
Here is a look at some other reactions to Cummings’ death:
Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY; The Associated Press